It’s no secret that the Outer Banks LOVES surfing. However, we hear so many complaints within our surfing community about low back pain, shoulder tightness, and discomfort in the hips. The good news is that Yoga and surfing are like a match made in heaven!! The following sequence can be done anywhere and is available to all levels. Use these to release tension from your low back and shoulders, to gain flexibility within and around your hips, and to improve your balance. Your surfing will thank you!
Uttanasana, passive variation (Passive Standing Forward Fold)
Instructions: Find a firm surface to stand on with your feet about hip width distance apart. Create a slight bend in your knees and slowly start to fold forward. Once you are forward folded clasp your hands around opposite elbows and allow your head and arms to really hand heavy while your neck and shoulders relax. Engage your legs by pressing firmly into the soles of your feet, keep the slight bend in your knees, and try lengthening your tailbone and hips towards the sky above you. If you’d like you can bend one knee and then the other walking your legs in place, or try working both legs towards straight. Take 10 deep breaths. As you move back to standing keep your chin tucked towards your chest and roll yourself up slowly.
Benefits: Passive standing forward folds help create space around your lower back and sacrum area. It can also help stretch your hamstrings and release tension from your side body and neck. This posture is great to do before and after a long paddle.
Cautions: If you have a lot of discomfort in your low back try bending your knees even deeper or try folding only half way forward and keep your palms on top of your thighs. If you have chronic pain in your knees, ankles, or feet, try creating this same shape with you body while seated on the floor.
Anjaneyasana (Knee Down Lunge)
Instructions: From a standing position slowly fold yourself forward as you bend your knees as much as needed to get your hands to the ground. Using your hands on the ground for assistance step your left foot behind you and lower your left knee to the ground. Now, check in with your right knee, making sure that your right knee is stacked on top of your right ankle. Start to sink your hips down and forward as you keep your right foot and your left shin bone grounding down and your core engaged. If you’d like, keep your hands on the ground, or bring them on top of your front thigh, or you can even try reaching your arms up over head. Take 5 – 10 deep breaths and then repeat on the other side.
Benefits: Knee down lunch strengthens your legs, and stretches your hip flexors, your quadricep muscles, and your spine.
Cautions: If you feel pain or sensation in your knee that is touching the floor try placing a blanket underneath your knee. If you feel pain or sensation in your front bent knee at anytime back off.
Ardha Hanumanasana (Runner’s Lunge or Half Split)
Instructions: From your knee down lunge position walk your hands towards your back foot as you roll on to the heel of your front foot. As you work your front leg towards straight keep your hands on the ground for support and your back shin bone pressing in to the ground. If you’d like stay upright or try starting to fold your chest forward. Take 5 – 10 deep breaths and repeat on the other side.
Benefits: Runner’s lunge pose stretches your hamstrings, calves, outer hips, low back, and possibly the entire spinal column.
Cautions: If you feel pain or sensation in your back knee try place a blanket underneath your knee joint. If you feel pain or sensation in your front extended leg allow yourself to keep a slight bend in your knee. If you have them, yoga blocks under your hands can be great support for your low back. If you have any chronic low back pain move very slowly and gently in to this pose.
Vrikshasana (Tree pose)
Instructions: From a standing position start to transfer your weight over in to your right leg. Instead of locking out your knee joints, try to keep a tiny bend in your standing knee, this will help you build your muscle strength. Standing on your right leg, start to lift the sole of your left foot to either the side of your ankle, the side of your shin bone, or maybe all the way up in to your inner left thigh. Keep rooting down through your standing foot as you lift up through your chest and the crown of your head. Stay aware of your center and keep your core engaged. Find a point about 5 feet out in front of you to gaze at while you balance. Try balancing with your hands at your hips, or maybe even extend your arms over head. Take 5 – 10 deep breaths and repeat on the other side.
Benefits: Tree pose helps improve balance and concentration while building strength in your legs and around your spine.
Cautions: If you have any knee, foot, or ankle injuries please move slowly in to this posture, or consider skipping. If you don’t feel comfortable with balance try working near a wall for support.
Instructions: Start in a standing position with your feet about hip width distance apart. Keep a slight bend in your knees and clasp your hands together behind your back. Another option is to use a strap, tie, or towel between your hands to make this stretch available to your shoulders. Keep your knees bent as deeply as is comfortable for you and start to fold forward allowing your arms to drop up over head. Only go as deep as feels safe for your shoulders, your hands may even just rest around your low back as you fold. Once you have found a place that is comfortable allow your head to drop heavy to release the neck. Take 5 – 10 deep breaths and slowly come back to standing.
Benefits: Standing Yoga Mudra helps increase the flexibility of your shoulders, chest, and spine. This yoga posture can also help release your low back and lengthen your hamstrings.
Cautions: If you have any chronic or recent shoulder injury, consider avoiding this yoga posture or approaching it slowly and gently. If you have discomfort in your low back consider bending your knees deeper, maybe even so deep that your belly rests on your thighs as your stretch your arms over head.
Supta Matsyendrasana (Supine Knee Down Twist)
Instructions: Lay on your back on a firm surface. Draw your left knee into your chest as you extend your arms out away from your shoulders, in a ’T’ position, with your palms resting on the ground. When you feel ready, start to cross your left knee over your body, twisting through your spine. If possible try to keep both of your shoulders on the ground. Let your knee rest on the ground, or if that is too much, place some kind of support (pillow, blanket, yoga block, etc.) under your twisted leg. Take 5 – 10 deep breaths. Repeat on the opposite side.
Benefits: Supine knee down twists stretch your lower back, chest, and shoulders. It helps lengthen your spine and detox your body by twisting out your entire spine. It can also help with digestion.
Cautions: Be aware of any discomfort that may arise in your hips, spine, or shoulders. If you experience sensitivity anywhere either back off, or if it is appropriate skip this posture.
Savasana (Deep Relaxation)
Instructions: Lay flat with your legs extended away from your body and your arms resting by your sides, palms facing up. If you’re comfortable with it try closing your eyes. Give your body permission to relax and soften as your breath gently slows down. Rest here for as long as you’d like.
Benefits: Deep relaxation helps relax your central nervous system and calms your mind. It may help relieve stress, decrease anxiety, reduce headache and fatigue, and may help improve your sleep. This meditative state of rest may help repair tissues and cells and can even leave you in a state of rejuvenation.
Cautions: If you experience anxiety during this posture try keeping your eyes open and focus on your breath. If you have discomfort in your low back place support (pillow or blanket) underneath your knees. If discomfort is showing up around your shoulders or neck support your head with a blanket or pillow.
Internal Kumbhaka Pranayama (Breath Retention)
You can practice breath retention from a seated position, lying on your back, or any other position that is comfortable for you. You can also practice this breathing technique with your eyes either closed or open, whichever you most prefer. Start by becoming aware of your breath. Notice the length and depth of your inhalations and your exhalations. *Tip: One tip for breath concentration is to focus on the sensations of your breath as it moves in and out of your body passing through your belly, ribs, and chest.
As you increase your connection to your breath, maybe try breathing through just your nose. Once you are comfortable in your breath concentration start to really slow down your breath extending your inhales and exhales as much as possible. As your breath becomes deeper and more expansive you can move in to breath retention.
At the top of a slow inhale try to retain your breath inside your body. It may help to tuck your chin to your chest. As you feel the urge to exhale see if you can relax, maybe swallow, and hold the breath a moment longer. As you begin to exhale again allow your breath to slowly leave your body. Repeat your slow & deep inhales, hold your breath in, relax, slowly exhale all of your breath out. Try doing this for 5 – 10 rounds, or longer if you would like. You may start to notice that your breath becomes deeper, and possibly that you are able to retain the breath longer and longer.
Benefits: Breath retention helps increase the breath capacity of your lungs, meaning that you can take in more air, and hold it for longer. This can be beneficial when getting held under water surfing, or for times where you may feel panicked. Breath retention exercises will also help train your mind to keep calm when having to hold your breath.
Cautions: If you feel dizzy at any point please stop practicing these breathing exercises and rest. Being in a comfortable position physically is highly recommended so that you can focus primarily on your breath.